The Best of Van Morrison, Volume 3
First Appeared in The Music Box, August 2007, Volume 14, #8
Written by John Metzger
Fri August 31, 2007, 05:20 AM CDT
Anyone who thinks that Van Morrison has lost his touch ought to listen to the music that is contained on The Best of Van Morrison, Volume 3. It goes without saying that nothing on the set is as groundbreaking as his work during the early ’70s. Nevertheless, while following his muse as he waltzed from style to style, he managed to illuminate and reshape his past by highlighting and exploring his roots. Covering a 12-year span that stretches from 1993’s Too Long in Exile to 2005’s Magic Time, The Best of Van Morrison, Volume 3 succeeds in making sense of Morrison’s eclectic and prolific output by capturing the essence of who he is as a songwriter and a performer. Although his albums have faltered from time to time, everything that he has delivered to market has held at least a few key moments. When these are viewed within the context of The Best of Van Morrison, Volume 3, it becomes clear that there was method to his madness all along.
Strange as it may seem, the disparate paths that Morrison has traversed since 1993 sound less scattered than one initially might expect. This is quite an accomplishment, too, considering that in addition to presenting, in chronological order, a hodgepodge of tracks from 11 of his 12 studio efforts — oddly, You Win Again, his collaboration with Linda Gail Lewis is not represented — The Best of Van Morrison, Volume 3 also makes room for a handful of rarities and remixed cuts. Credit simply must be afforded to Morrison, who hand-selected the material that appears on the set, for the manner in which he smoothed the sometimes jagged and jarring transitions that have separated one album from the next. Not only does he deftly find the connections between his varied pursuits, as only he could, but he also links them together in a way that makes it seem, at times, as if he has added as many formidable weapons to his arsenal over the past decade-plus as he did during the first 10 years of his career.
It helps, of course, that he tucked a few ringers into the fabric of The Best of Van Morrison, Volume 3. Georgie Fame, for example, lends a hand in briskly delivering Moondance as a straightforward jazz piece, while Ray Charles is tapped for a gospel-infused reading of Crazy Love. Elsewhere, Morrison and Bobby Bland embark on a soulful excursion through Tupelo Honey that wouldn’t have sounded out of place on one of Al Green’s efforts from the early ’70s, and with the help of John Lee Hooker, Gloria is recast as a hard-edged, barn-burning, blues-y romp. There are other guests, too, who are equally sympathetic to whatever style Morrison happens to be working: Skiffle king Lonnie Donegan (Lost John), blues legends B.B. King (Early in the Morning) and Junior Wells (Help Me), and rockabilly great Carl Perkins (Sitting on Top of the World) all take turns in provoking the best performances out of Morrison.
Without having to focus upon including any particular sequence of songs, Morrison was free to be as selective as he needed to be in order to navigate his recent endeavors in a seamless fashion. Consequently, the songs that he chose to include on The Best of Van Morrison, Volume 3 were judged not only by the quality of the performances but also against what they brought to the story that he was trying to tell. His interpretation of Georgia on My Mind is stronger within the context of the retrospective than it was when it first appeared on the otherwise magnificent Down the Road. At the same time, the tune also foreshadows his duet with Ray Charles on Crazy Love. Likewise, the orchestrated slice of Appalachia, albeit with an Irish twist, that he created with The Chieftains on Shenandoah mutates into the Elton John-alluding strings that grace a revamped rendition of Meet Me in the Indian Summer, while the gently lilting refrain of Hey Mr. DJ inevitably leads the Sam Cooke-inspired Once in a Blue Moon.
Each track on The Best of Van Morrison, Volume 3 undeniably is meant to highlight a specific aspect of Morrison’s variegated persona. As the endeavor proves, he can be a Sinatra-esque crooner, an Ellington-ian arranger, a down-and-dirty bluesman, and a fire-and-brimstone soul singer. Nevertheless, the individual components of the collection also serve as stepping stones that allow him to skip safely across a rather diverse set of compositions. Where an examination of his albums since 1992 might lead a person to think that he has jumped from one place to another on a whim, the careful crafting of his retrospective paints an entirely different portrait by giving the appearance that his many interests are all part of a cleverly scripted career arc. Although his output over the course of the last decade hasn’t been nearly as bad as many have made it out to be, The Best of Van Morrison, Volume 3 gives the impression that it was more consistent than reality would otherwise dictate.
Of Further Interest...
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1 Star: Pitiful
2 Stars: Listenable
3 Stars: Respectable
4 Stars: Excellent
5 Stars: Can't Live Without It!!
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